When I was a baby vet, I worked for a taciturn male veterinarian who never failed to surprise me with his forward thinking. He always asked me questions, not to quiz me, but to soak up some of my fresh-out-of-school knowledge. He pushed me and protected me during the three years of my employment. If we had a misunderstanding, he was the first to pick up the phone and try to smooth out the situation.
I struggled with being female and looking very young. I had clients ask “where is the real doctor?” or “is your dad the doctor here”? I found this annoying and embarrassing but never really looked beyond the surface of these comments. One day, a backyard Chow breeder came in with his aggressive dog and her tragically aggressive puppies.
He insisted upon standing close to me on my side of the exam table instead of on the bench where he belonged. He commented about how cute I was and told me he bet my boyfriend loved to have me examine him all the time. He never touched me, but it was pretty clear that if he wanted to, he could. If I’m being honest, his horrible dogs bothered me much more than his behavior. I did blush and get out of the room as quickly as possible. I breathed a sigh of relief to have some space.
I casually told my boss about the guy – again, highlighting that he had aggressive eight week old puppies. I mentioned that he was also a “close talker” and had made a “pitiful” attempt to hit on me. My boss was enraged. I remember looking into his angry face and blinking, not really understanding what he was getting so worked up about. “You NEVER have to see that client again. You tell me right away if anyone ever says anything even slightly off-color to you. You don’t have to put up with that!”
Another boss of mine had one of her wealthy clients lay into me because I wouldn’t give treatments that her cat had received in the past. She was cruel and threatening. I went to the treatment room to gather myself and dry my tears. The technicians gathered around me and soothed me. They got me through the appointment. When my boss found out, she went into the room and had it out with the client. This was someone who spent thousands of dollars with the clinic every year and we earned every penny putting up with her behavior. She told the client to apologize to me or leave for good. She apologized, and I never saw her again.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is what a good boss does. A good boss does NOT force you to see abusive clients. A good boss does not require you to stand silent while a client yells or curses at you. A good boss does not permit bullying behavior no matter how long someone has been employed or how valuable they seem. A good boss doesn’t allow a 40 year old man to physically intimidate a 25 year old woman in a small enclosed space because he’s “been a great client”.
A good boss takes care of their work family first and expects that because they are safe and supported, they will take excellent care of clients and pets. And a SMART boss knows that requiring you to tolerate those situations can have serious legal consequences. It is not a kindness to protect employees from harassment, it’s an OBLIGATION. We should all make sure we remember that and act accordingly.
About the Author
Dr. Cherie Buisson is one of the first Certified Hospice and Palliative Care Veterinarians in the world. She is an international speaker and author. She spends her time in feline-only practice, hospice practice and teaching other veterinary professionals about hospice, euthanasia and compassion fatigue. Dr. Buisson is the owner of Helping Hands Pet Hospice in Seminole, FL as well as the founder of A Happy Vet.